Testing The Limits

An unprecedented event occurred a few months ago at the Universal Studios lot in Burbank, Calif. The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) teamed up with the Producers Guild of America (PGA) to test eight professional cameras, together for the first time, to better understand the benefits of today’s digital camera systems.

"The entire industry will learn from this event," explains David Stump, ASC. "This will form a library for research and reference and will end up in the Academy’s archive as a record of the time when we moved into the digital era."

The American Society of Cinematographers and the Producers Guild of America recently tested eight professional HD cameras to better understand the benefits of today’s digital camera systems.

Aptly named the Camera Assessment Series (CAS), the event welcomed seven of the top HD cameras—the ARRIFLEX D-21, Panasonic HPX3700, Sony F23, Sony F35, Panavision Genesis, Grass Valley Viper, RED ONE—plus an ARRIFLEX 435 film camera, allowing venerable celluloid a place at the table.

"Film is obviously a baseline for everything we do," explains Stump, one of three supervising DPs over a weekend of vigorous tests. "Sadly, one day it may be replaced, and a big part of the CAS is to make the implicit demand that digital refill the creative toolbox we’ve happily experienced with film for over a century."

Curtis Clark, ASC (and chairman of the American Society of Cinematographers’ technology committee), and Richard Crudo, ASC, joined Stump as supervising cinematographers on-site to ensure integrity at each test location and to make sure each camera performed at its optimum level. Meanwhile, each camera had its own "traveling DP" and a "location DP" on each set.

All digital cameras were tweaked to record raw 4:4:4 data. Information was tracked on a slate (in addition to various digital cameras recording metadata to their recorders), while the Sony F23, Sony F35, Panasonic HPX3700 and Panavision Genesis also recorded their settings to chip.

The first test involved a static early-morning shot of the iconic Jaws exhibit at Universal Studios.

"A very low-light morning shot [was used] to see what happens when you push the limits of latitude on each camera," explains cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, ASC, who utilized the RED ONE during the two-day shoot. "The shot examined the ratios from dark to light with the additional presence of fire on the set."

Once wrapped, all cameras took turns shooting at other locations created on the Desperate Housewives set on the Universal lot.